Search for next national statistician comes up empty

Conundrum highlights a dearth of investment in official statisticians' leadership skills, Royal Statistical Society head says

National statistician John Pullinger. Photo: Photoshot

The UK Statistics Authority’s search for the next national statistician has failed to find anyone to take up the post, it has said.

The UKSA began its search for the government statistics chief, who will also lead the Office for National Statistics, in November. The successful applicant will replace John Pullinger when he retires this summer.

But by the time applications closed in January, the search had failed to attract anyone qualified and willing to fill the £160,000-a-year role. A spokesperson for the authority confirmed that it was “discussing next steps” with the Civil Service Commission.


The job advert offered a role of between £150,000 and £160,000 – the same as the incumbent’s base salary in 2017-18. When pensions and other benefits were taken into account, Pullinger was paid between £175,000 and £180,000 that year, according to UKSA’s latest annual report.

Officials must now choose whether to reopen the recruitment process or change the job specification. However, it is unlikely a successor will be appointed before Pullinger steps down next month.

Hetan Shah, executive director of the Royal Statistical Society, said that although the government’s deputy national statisticians would be able to “hold the fort” in the interim, it was concerning that UKSA had been unable to attract anyone willing to take up the role.

“The concern for the UK Statistics Authority will be how to get a field of strong candidates in any re-recruitment process that they run, if those candidates were not persuaded to apply the first time around,” he told CSW.

He also urged the authority to “look beyond the immediate problem” and address the management skills gap among civil service statisticians to ensure it does not run into the same problem in future.

“The deeper problem this all points to is that there has not been sufficient investment in building the leadership skills of official statisticians so that there is a pool of candidates for roles of this stature when they come up,” Shah said.

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